Radical Racers: Four Stories Underground

(Photo courtesy of Bruce Buckley)

The Crosshairs Garage Race series is among the most unique cycling events in America. And this series is held in our backyard. By backyard we mean underground — in a parking garage — and these races range from super serious and fast-paced to enchantingly wacky.

We decided if ABC7 Reporter Jay Korff was going to cover this event, then why not put him to the test? He races for a local bike shop, The Bike Lane.

The evening exodus home is one of trudging monotony for many in the Washington, D.C. region. But in the concrete caverns of Crystal City, Virginia, the ubiquitous parking garage was transformed into an underground arena not for four wheels but for two wheels.

“How often can you utilize parking to do something creative and unique?” said Rob Mandle, CEO of Crystal City Business Improvement District.

On Wednesday nights beginning in March into April, the Crystal City Business Improvement District hosted the Crosshairs Garage Races. This event is held four stories underground.

“So we’ve got columns all over the place. We’ve got inclines, zig zags. This is a pretty complex, technical course," said Mandle.

These races include classifications for weekend warriors, women and an open race for elite men like Matt Toigo.

“There are no big straightaways to hammer on so it’s all about how quickly can you get out of a turn and accelerate, accelerate, accelerate,” said Toigo.

Libby Sheldon, an age division cyclocross world champion, describes this event simply as, “Insanely fun.”

“This is the perfect time of year for it," said elite racer Craig Etheridge.

Perfect due to D.C.’s mercurial spring weather making it difficult to train and race outside this time of year.

“Totally edgier than typical D.C.,” said race fan Gabe Seiden.

Race promoters have created a festival-like subterranean environment that is so much more than an athletic competition. There are large, loud crowds, rocking music and adult beverages.

And did we mention there’s pie?

“I never thought I would be selling pies in a garage,” said Sol Schott, owner of Acme Pie Company.

Schott nearly sold out of pie each week and as a cyclist puts this event into perspective as well as anyone.

"It’s like fight club on bicycles. Except nobody gets hurt. Well, ok. It can happen. But nobody purposely gets hurt.”

And that’s where our story takes a turn you may have anticipated.

“There’s no padding and the floor is kind of slick," Seiden pointed out.

Which means racing here takes more than raw power and speed. It takes smarts and a lot of nerve. And it’s crucial to know exactly what kind of tire pressure to run.

If your pressure is too high, your bike feels like you are racing on ice, which leads to crashing while navigating sharp turns.

And that’s exactly why my first of three garage races didn’t go so smoothly. In the first race alone, I found myself on the ground three times. I finished a disappointing 17th. Lesson learned.

With my bike dialed in for week two, I finished a decent 8th. More importantly, I stayed upright. In my third and final race, confident and a bit more fit, I managed a respectable 4th overall.

“So If you think this is fun and crazy and unique and different wait until you see what we bring you on the final week of this," said Mandle.

The final Wednesday featured let-your-hair-down races that focused on funky frames and outrageous outfits. We saw trikes, unicycles and a nun on a tandem.

“This night is the most fun night because the last race, as long as you are on wheels, you can participate,” said race fan Jane Scruggs.

It’s appropriately called “Anything Goes”.

“This is just fun. Bikes are great. People on bikes are better. It’s just a great way to spend a crazy evening,” said Mark Blacknell, who raced on a long stretchy bike that fit two of his children.

D.C. may be known as a bit of an uptight town. But where can you go late night, midweek and race, dance, laugh, cheer and drink beer all in a subterranean parking garage?

“We also want to thank JBG Smith for letting us use the bottom floor of their parking garage. We don’t know why you let us do this but we are happy you do,” said Race Announcer Nate Graham.

We would like to thank Bruce Buckley and Darrell Parks for usage of their fantastic photographs. And our gratitude to Robert Laybourn, of the Armed Forces Cycling Classic, for additional footage.

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